Nigeria: Boko Haram, weakened by Buhari's troops, "has gained in tactical quality" -

A few days before the presidential election he is running for, President Muhammadu Buhari has a mixed security record. Although he initially managed to weaken Boko Haram, the jihadist group has gained in tactical and strategic quality, according to specialist Vincent Foucher.

It was his promise when he came to power in 2015 : "Eradicate Boko Haram". Four years later, President Muhammadu Buhari, candidate for his own succession to the presidential election of 16 next February, does not seem to have changed rhetoric. "Our troops must not lose sight of their task: eliminate Boko Haram from the face of the earth," he said last November. in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, after a terrible attack on a military base who made a hundred dead among the soldiers.

Muhammad Buhari knows it, the 16 next February, its safety record will be particularly valued by the Nigerians who will go to the polls. A mixed security record, according to Vincent Foucher, a CNRS researcher and Boko Haram specialist in Nigeria, for whom Boko Haram, split into factions, is now better organized, mainly targeting the army as a main target.

Young Africa: In 2015, Muhammadu Buhari had notably promised Nigerians to fight Boko Haram by the end of his term. Did he keep his campaign promise?

Vincent Foucher : Muhammadu Buhari was elected with the idea that he could better handle the security conflict than his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan, being himself a former military man who ruled Borno State, where Boko Haram was the most active. From a military point of view, he reinforced the Air Force and promoted officers from the Northeast who knew the area well.

He energized the mixed multinational force around Lake Chad, which until then had been an empty shell

It has also strengthened bilateral cooperation between States, by relaunching the collaboration with Cameroon, long opposed to Nigeria around the possession of the Bakassi Peninsula, in the south of the two countries. It also boosted the multinational mixed force, which includes soldiers from Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Benin and Nigeria around Lake Chad, which until then was an empty shell.

Shekau would have about 2000 fighters and the al-Barnawi faction would have between 2500 and 5000

During his tenure, Muhammadu Buhari repeated many times that Boko Haram was "technically defeated". What is it really?

From the beginning of his term, Buhari continued the efforts of his predecessor by pushing back Boko Haram. In 2016, the group lost control of all the secondary cities it owned around the state of Borno in particular. Following the defeats, the activists questioned themselves the leadership of their leader Abubakar Shekau and split in two: Abu Musab al-Barnawi's faction on one side, and ISK on the other, the Shekau branch.

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The first is Lake Chad, an area rich in natural resources and coveted by civil society, and the second remains in the forest of Sambisa, on the Cameroonian border. There are also gray areas where both groups are present. Safe sources believe Shekau would have about 2 000 fighters, while al-Barnawi would have between 2 500 and 5 000.

Have the jihadists changed their methods?

ISWA has moved away from Shekau's methods based on terror and the explosion of suicide bombers in public squares. The group prefers today bomb the military bases of the Nigerian army. It also tries to provide services to the people: justice, health, Islamic education. In northern Nigeria, a number of people feel that one can live and work in areas occupied by ISWA.

How do you explain the recrudescence of attacks since mid-2018 in the north of the country?

There are two reasons. The first is that since 2016, ISWA has rebuilt its stocks - weapons, vehicles, fuels - by attacking small military bases in Niger and Nigeria. The group is now attacking large military bases because it has reached a credible size that allows it. Taking Baga last December, hundreds of soldiers from the Multinational Joint Force fled.

The second reason is that there was a change of strategy with the death of Mamman Nur, one of the leaders of the ISWA killed in 2018 by the radical members of his group, who criticized him for being too moderate and close to the Nigerian state.

As they do not yet have a solution to the air threat, they are doing rural jihad

What does ISWA do with military bases that it destroys? Does this looting allow them to militarize?

The defeat of 2016 has shown ISWA members that they can not sustainably sustain large communities because they will be bombarded by the aviations of Nigeria and its neighbors. So when they attack the military bases, they loot and evacuate. Since they do not yet have a solution to the air threat, they are doing rural jihad.

After the Baga attack last December, does Boko Haram have a better strike force than the Nigerian army?

The Nigerian army is poorly governed: its resources are poorly used and the living conditions of soldiers pose problems. For example, he says that he does not have a medical system to evacuate wounded soldiers.

Opposite, the experts say ISWA has gained in tactical and strategic quality, with better weapons handling and better training of its fighters. But the Nigerian army remains very active.

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